Winter is about root vegetables and one of the hidden gems is rutabagas. The cross between a cabbage and turnip -- also known as a Swedish turnip -- it's slightly sweeter than a turnip with less water (which means it can sometimes be woody if not cooked properly). The flesh is yellowy-orange, so it can add nice color to an entree or side dish.
Rutabaga season typically starts around October and lasts through the end of January. They're one of the heartiest vegetables in the garden -- meaning you can still get fresh-picked vegetables even this time of year. You want firm, racquet-ball sized rutabagas. If they're soft or spotted, don't take them. Use the same rule as lobsters: bigger usually means tougher.
Rutabagas are not hard to store -- they should be among your kitchen staples because they can easily last a month in the fridge if you wrap them in plastic.
It's helpful to think of rutabagas like potatoes -- they're best mashed, boiled or roasted. Most recipes call for you to peel off the skin and then dice the vegetable into 1-inch chunks or cubes. This is as easy as working with a carrot.
As side dishes, rutabagas are like tofu in that they can take the flavor, mellow and provide body for whatever you serve them with. Something like this recipe for mashed rutabaga with orange and ginger is a perfect example. You can also roast them on a baking sheet. And they can be either sweet or savory -- although a recipe for carmelized turnips and rutabagas with nutmeg and cream is hard to resist.
[Image via Flickr: elvissa]